“Are you sure you want to do this, Gene?”
Gene Ingram was sitting in a rather uncomfortable office chair which had been placed in the temporal projection chamber, something that looked roughly like a hollowed out egg. At age 48, he had experienced his fair share of heartache and headache which was why he had to do this.
“No, Walter. I don’t want to do this at all, but he killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds more. Most of the time you Feds figure out who they are, what they are, why they did it, what they had for breakfast two years ago last Thursday, everything. With this one, you’ve turned up Nada. I’m your only hope…again.”
Walter Rice was the FBI’s Special Agent in charge of the latest mass murder, this one at a pro-NRA rally in Tampa Bay, Florida (an irony fully enjoyed by everyone who hates the NRA, Republicans in general, and the current President in particular). That was six months ago and in that time, the motives of Graham Jesse Booth were still a mystery. He was neither pro nor anti-gun, in spite of the fact that he had been surrounded by several automatic rifles and semi-automatic handguns when local law enforcement burst into his motel room just as he committed suicide. He was apolitical, only voted in three elections over a thirty year span. There were no indications of violent thoughts or posts in his Facebook and twitter accounts. As far as his family and friends knew, he was a perfectly ordinary and even boring married man, father of four, and grandfather of three.
A sweep of the hard drives from his desktop, laptop, tablet, and cell revealed nothing. Same with his work computers. This was something you wouldn’t think a CPA near retirement age capable of, and yet he had murdered 69 people in cold blood and put hundreds in the hospital before blowing his brains out with a 9 mm Glock.
Gene was right. He was their only hope of finding out why Graham Booth went from doting Grandpa to mass murderer.
“This’ll work just like before Gene. You won’t actually be traveling back in time…”
“I know, I know. Being the government’s top-secret pet psychic, my thoughts, my personality or whatever you want to call it will do the traveling, in this case back six months, four days, and an odd number of hours and into the head of the most infamous killer in the last decade. Sounds like a perfect vacation spot.”
Gene’s voice was, as the metaphor goes, dripping with sarcasm, but he always sounded that way. One of the effects of his particular talent was that it made him almost completely misanthropic. Except for assignments like this one, Ingram secluded himself in a small cabin in Idaho about forty miles from the nearest town, which was small. Supplies were delivered by drone. He didn’t want to be around human minds unless he had to, and he was paid very well for his services.
“I’ve told you this before, but you shouldn’t smoke in the…”
“Yeah, yeah. I know. The little techies don’t want their hardware contaminated with cigarette smoke. Too fucking bad.” Gene put the spent cigarette out on the metal floor crushing it with his heel. Walter picked up his Coke can, empty since he took the last swig a few minutes ago, stepped uncomfortably into the chamber, and then scooped up the butt from the floor and put it in the can.
“God, I’d hate to have to live with a neat freak like you. Can we get on with it? I want to get this over.”
Walter stepped back outside the chamber. At six-foot four and 275 pounds, it was awkward to get in and out of the chamber’s small access port, but he managed with a struggle. His wife was always nagging him to go back to the gym and lay off of the sodas and junk food, but over thirty years with the Bureau had taken its toll, especially since he had been assigned to be Ingram’s control for the last ten.
The FBI agent looked at the technicians who were calibrating their consoles or whatever they did to get the equipment ready. Twenty-eight year old Kristen Grant nodded her head without looking at Rice. “Just about there, Agent.”
She didn’t like the FBI, she didn’t like agents, and she particularly hated psychics (Gene hated her, too), but she loved being able to play with very expensive and absolutely top-secret time transfer equipment and get paid a six-figure salary for doing so.
She finally looked up at Walter. “We’re set. Billy, shut the door.”
Billy Ramos, one of Grant’s three technicians, stepped quickly toward the chamber. As he grabbed the hatch to close it, he took a quick look at “the subject.” That’s what most of the official documents even hinting at the existence of someone like Gene Ingram called him. He was “the subject,” the guinea pig, the experiment. The man whose mind could travel back in time, with a little help from technology of course.
“Hatch sealed, Kristen.”
She ignored Billy now that he’d done what she wanted and started playing around with a set of complicated switches and knobs on a complicated set of consoles and control boards.
“Chamber energized in three, two, one, and…”
Gene Ingram had been asked on a number of occasions what it was like being transferred in time. He never told anyone, not because it was indescribable, but because it was horribly painful.
Inside the “egg,” the light got brighter, brighter, brighter until it threatened to burn right through Gene’s tightly closed eyelids. There was no sound, but he could feel some sort of vibration, as if his body became a tuning fork. The worst part was the feeling of having his mind ripped from his head, synapses snapping like old rubber bands, like falling down an endless tunnel but never hitting bottom, like being alone in the universe (which for a few moments was appealing to Ingram), and then slammed into the body of an alien.
It took him a few seconds to get his bearings, not only because of the general disorientation caused by the transfer process, but because he was now seeing out of someone else’s eyes, hearing with someone else’s ears. Touching, feeling, sweating, farting, with someone else’s body.
Booth couldn’t hear him inside his head, but Ingram could still manage to speak, though somewhat like a delirious or drunk man, in his body in the chamber. Microphones picked up his voice, and speakers let him hear Rice’s questions and instructions.
“I’m right with you, Gene.” Walter spoke into the mike at his station. The communications console was the only piece of equipment in the lab Grant let him touch.
“Gimme a second. Trying to figure out what this Bozo is doing.”
Six months in the past in the mind and body of another man, Gene tried to figure out where Booth was and what he was doing. He couldn’t control Booth. Ingram was a passive observer, nothing more, but he could observe not only what Booth did but what he was thinking. That was the hard part, not because of any problem with Gene’s abilities, but he had to let down his guard, open himself up to the mind of a madman.
“What’s wrong, Gene?”
“Booth’s head. It’s like being stuck in a wet burlap sack with six half drowned cats.”
“Men in their sixties do not suddenly have psychotic breaks, Gene. Are you saying he’s insane?”
“You ever try to drive in Paris or Rome during rush hour, Walter? It doesn’t make any sense and neither does Booth.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Loading guns. Lots and lots of guns. It’s just like the report said. He has six of ’em on tripods with scopes. That way he doesn’t have to change clips as often. He’s got it all planned out. Methodical.”
“I thought you said he was crazy, chaotic.”
“Not his methods, Walter. His motives. He’s planning to kill as many of those people across the road at the fairground as possible, but I’m not even sure he knows why. He just seems to hate those people.”
“That’s not what his official profile says, Gene.”
“People with his official profile don’t commit mass murder, Walter.”
“Is he still loading the rifles?”
“Nah, he finished. Now he’s pulling out those framed photos and setting them up around the room. There’s his wife, the one with her and their kids when they were little. Now the one of his grandkids. He’s crying, Walter. He’s actually crying.
“He’s touching their photo. Telling them how much he loves them, how he’ll miss them. I mean, I know he’s not drunk, but his thought process is way off. He’s looking at his watch. It’s just five minutes until he starts shooting.”
There was silence on both sides of the link for almost a minute and then, “Oh crap.”
“What is it Gene?”
“You missed someone. He’s thinking about her now.”
“Louise…Marie…give me a sec. Yeah, Johnson. Louise Marie Johnson.”
Walter pulled his cell out of his jacket pocket, keyed in his password and let the phone use the Bureau’s facial recognition software to unlock the device. Then he did a search of the case files stored on the hard drive.
“Okay, yeah. Louise Marie Johnson. I’ve got her, Gene. She worked at the same firm as Booth did but she was fired about two years ago. Some sort of accounting error with one of their chief clients.”
“How about embezzling, Walter? Huh? How about Booth has been having an affair with her for over three years? Oh man, did you ever blow it.”
“Gene, there was no evidence of that kind of involvement between them.”
“They were careful, Walter. Booth travels several times a year on business, always to the same three cities.”
“Right. Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami.”
“All to work with high-end clients. She meets him at each one. Assumed name. Guess the charming wife at home got to be kind of stale.”
“But what does that have to do with…?”
“I’m getting to that, Walter. It’s tough but…yeah. He’s depressed, Walter. Booth is clinically depressed. Has been for years.”
“We got warrants for all his medical files, Gene. Nothing. He was in great shape when he died.”
“Autopsy missed something. Dig up the body, Walter. Run the pharmacology screens again. You’re looking for an anti-depressant, something his little girlfriend turned him on to. She was hooked on half a dozen prescription pills and was really good faking Doctors’ scripts.”
“He’s depressed? That’s why he killed all those people?”
“About to, Walter. I think it’s a drug reaction. Like maybe he’s allergic or something. Whatever it is, it’s messed with his head.”
“We didn’t find any medication in the room that night, at his home, office, nothing.”
“She took it with her.”
“What? Gene are you saying…?”
“The guns were all in his name, but she was in on it with him. She was the only one he could tell about the crazy stuff. It was her. Anti-gun protester since she was an undergrad at Berkeley. Oh God, Walter.”
“What’s wrong, Gene.”
“She lost a kid, a six-year-old son, that elementary school shooting about ten years back.”
“I remember it. Wait. Booth’s youngest grandson turned six earlier this year.”
“Right, Walter. About a month ago, a month before the murders. Walter! Walter get me out of here. He’s about to do it. He’s gonna shoot.”
“Grant, pull him back. Pull him back now.”
“I’m trying. It takes a minute or two. Billy, what the fuck is wrong with the retrieval program?”
“It’s caught in some sort of loop, Kristen. I’m clearing it now.”
“GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HIS HEAD RIGHT NOW!”
Those were the last coherent words Gene Ingram screamed. The rest was inarticulate gibberish until his psyche was retrieved and the temporal chamber’s power was cut. Then he passed out and collapsed on the floor.
The rest of the investigation went more or less quickly. Rice and a dozen special agents acquired all the necessary warrants and found all the records they needed not only to firmly establish Graham Booth’s motives, but to arrest Louise Johnson as an accessory to murder. Booth’s body was exhumed and additional tests for an uncommon anti-depressant revealed that Booth indeed had an atypical reaction to the medication, one that Johnson exploited to get what she thought of as justice.
Gene Ingram recovered what was left of his sanity and consciousness by the time he was taken back to his cabin in the Sawtooth mountains. His government doctors certified him fit to return to his solitary existence and so Walter Rice left him there. He hoped it would be a good long while before they’d need Gene’s services again. Walter would never know what went on inside Ingram’s brain, but he could see the haunted look in the psychic’s eyes. They were the eyes of a man who knows what it’s like to live inside of a murderous psychopath. He could feel his fingers pulling triggers, the pain from the burns caused by hot, automatic rifles, see the blood, the bodies, feel the rage, the drive, the desire to kill.
Booth had been firing at his victims for nearly two minutes before Ingram could be retrieved. Eugene August Ingram will remember the horror of those one hundred and sixteen seconds for the rest of his life.
There’s been a lot of speculation about the motive of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock in the news lately. Unlike most mass shooters, he didn’t leave behind any clear and obvious trail to why he committed his particularly horrendous crime.
I’ve looked at the various theories, raw guess-work most of it, and having a unique reaction to medication which caused an otherwise sane individual to commit insane acts was one of them. Unlike in my fiction, if this is the case, it’ll come out in the autopsy. I just leveraged that piece of information to construct my killer’s motive.
Everything I’ve written is fiction. It doesn’t relate directly to Paddock or anyone else. I decided to use a photo of the late actor Jack Colvin, best known for playing reporter Jack McGee on The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982) television series starring the late Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno (who is still very much alive). Colvin played McGee with a kind of driven “edginess” that, if extended quite a bit further, would fit Gene Ingram very well.
What would it be like to be trapped in the mind of a crazed killer at the exact moment when he starts to kill? That’s a question only someone like Gene Ingram can answer and he’s not talking.